Mike’s Take: You Don’t Have to Win the Lottery to Hit the Jackpot

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTonight is the annual Draft Lottery where most non-playoff teams find out what pick they will have among the first 14 of the NBA Draft on June 24 – though as a result of a prior trade the Utah Jazz will have the first pick of the New York Knicks. The top three picks in the Draft will be determined by the drop of 1000 ping pong balls, while the remaining lottery teams will select in reverse order of their regular season standings. The lottery selection is weighted towards the teams with the worst records, so the New Jersey Nets are the favorites to receive the #1 pick this year, followed by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It does not always work out that way, however, as the Chicago Bulls found out to their delight in 2008 when they were able to beat the odds and select Derrick Rose with the first pick in the draft. In fact the team with the best odds has only won the lottery three times in the last twenty years, while the team with the third best odds has won it five times. And though last year’s #1 pick Blake Griffin is expected to significantly improve the LA Clippers franchise, he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and the Clips wound up  29-53.

While it may seem obvious that the goal of each team tonight will be to win the rights to the #1 pick, it may be just as valuable to simply be in the top 4-5 picks given the nature of this year’s talent pool. The draft this year is expected to be a deep one, but most would consider it lacking the LeBron James type that is clearly the player around whom to build a franchise. Two of the standard debates involved with any high draft pick may be more relevant this year, namely:

1) Draft big or small?

2) Draft to fill a need or pick the best player available?

The current trend in the NBA is for teams to go small and/or versatile with the point guard position probably having the most depth in the league. For this reason, John Wall of Kentucky and Evan Turner of Ohio State are widely assumed to be the top two picks in the draft. There are two big men in the draft behind them though that could end up being a steal for the teams that draft behind the top two. They are Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech and Demarcus Cousins, also of Kentucky.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The traditional wisdom is that teams this high in the draft should go for the best player available so teams may pass on Favors and Cousins even if they need a big man. The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Greg Oden with the #1 pick three years ago to fill a need, and while they remain committed to Oden’s future with the team, they have been forced to watch Kevin Durant (drafted #2 that year) blossom into a leading MVP candidate. And perhaps more famously The owner of the #1 pick will also be aware that its pick is going to be scrutinized for years to come. This pressure sometimes forces front offices to make the “safe” pick – i.e., the player who is the pre-draft favorite – rather than taking a shot at a less likely candidate.

When you consider that the Chicago Bulls landed Michael Jordan with the #3 pick back in 1984, winning the #1 pick tonight would clearly be a nice situation to be in, but it may not be all its cracked up to be.

The 2010 NBA Draft Lottery will be held May 18 at the NBA Entertainment studio in Secaucus, New Jersey at 7:00 PM ET.

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